So you want to be an artist… is this a realistic career choice, or are you going to live in a cockroach-infested flat for the rest of your life, fulfilling the “starving artist” stereotype? In short, the odds of being a successful fine artist (someone who makes a living by creating original, one-off pieces of art) are against you -- but some people do succeed. A career in art is not limited to being a painter of canvases which get framed and sold in a gallery. Behind every piece of art in a newspaper, magazine, book, poster, and leaflet there’s a commercial or graphic artist – usually a team. There are graphic artists putting the magazines together, illustrators drawing the cartoons and graphics. Website designers, computer-graphic artists (computers don’t draw the graphics themselves, they’re just a tool, a modern version of a paint brush!), and animators. Film, TV, and stage set building. And think more broadly: photography, landscape design, interior design, shop-window design, framing. Textile and clothing design. Furniture and lighting design. Architecture and engineering. Even if in your heart you long to be a fine artist, working in any of these fields will complement what you do at your easel in your 'own' time, these all require creative skills.

Choosing art as a career

The creative industry is competitive, but that’s symptomatic of the dedication people in it feel to their work. Rather than writing yourself off before you’ve even begun, see it as a challenge to strive and succeed. It takes hard work and determination, the ability to sell yourself, and to produce the goods. Art will not make you the same money as being, say, a stockbroker. But you have to decide what's more important to you: money or having a job/career you thoroughly enjoy. Do you want a fancy car, or simply one that’ll get from A to B without breaking down? A designer top or using the money for a large tub of genuine cadmium red? Assess your priorities and make your choices accordingly. Do without rather than go into debt for a non-essential (and take a critical look at what you consider essential). What do you rather want be able to say: that you lived an interesting, creative life or that you lived in a huge house, had a new car regularly, and wish you’d found more time for your art when you’re 80 and look back on your life? Some people choose a job simply because it pays the bills and leaves them with plenty of time to pursue a fine-art career part time. Or one in an unrelated field so it won't use up their creative energy. Only you can know if this is right for you. Take enough business courses to ensure you’ve the skills to sell yourself and your work, and can manage your own business (do the books, pay your taxes, understand a contract etc.). You need good language skills to present yourself and your work -- e.g. could you write a good press release for your first show, compose a letter to a gallery without any grammatical or spelling errors?